“What is it that the African theological academy has to offer to the world that only it can offer?"
This was the question asked by Prof Tinyiko Maluleke at the annual Theological Day of the Faculty of Theology (FT) at Stellenbosch University (SU). He is a professor at University of Pretoria (UP) and conducts research on, inter alia, religion, politics and black-African theology.
The theme of the day was 'Doing theology from and for Africa: Our lamentations, struggles and hopes'.
In his speech Maluleke expanded on the important voices of theology in African history and referred to, among others, Proff Kwame Bediako, John Mbiti and David Bosch, as well as Lamin Sanneh and Jesse Mugambi. He praised these voices for the ink of hope they provided from Africa to world theology in the 21st century.
In response to Maluleke's speech on the important theological voices in Africa, Prof Reggie Nel, Dean of the FT, took a bird's eye view over the 160 years of theological training at SU. Nel said that where ministers were mainly imported from Europe to Africa, the need had arisen for training that was native. That meant theological training created from the African soil. For most of the faculty's history only white Afrikaner men received theological training. There were a few black students as well, but their history is unclear. There was also an attachment to a particular ideology – Afrikaner nationalism.
“Looking at history, there were also the unique and evangelical voices that rose against this theological attachment. These were sometimes lonely voices such as those of Prof BB Keet, Beyers Naude and Nico Smit. These voices were a constant conscience calling the church and theology back to the healthy roots of Africa. These leaders heard the prophetic voice of the Lord," Nel said.
According to him, further development took place in 2000 when students from the United Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URC) moved from the University of the Western Cape to the FT. This move created much more diversity at the faculty with academics such as Proff Dirkie Smit, Russel Botman and Hannes Adonis and Dr Llewellyn Macmaster joining its ranks. Nel described the faculty as a stream with tributaries that has been enriched over the years.
“Today, the faculty is regarded as one of the most diverse faculties at SU. The contribution that we as a faculty uniquely make in Africa is the prophetic tradition that we underline in the fields of gender, social cohesion and justice."
Prof Julie Claassens, professor of Old Testament at the FT, added that the faculty has been specifically focused on developing complex themes such as human dignity and gender justice in the African context through various research projects.
Main photo: From left is Proff Reggie Nel, Tinyiko Maluleke and Robert Vosloo.